Wednesday, December 10, 2014

‘Pregnant woman leaves prolife advocates speechless’ – A Response to a viral Pro-abortion/choice video

Over the last week the abortion debate has been reawakened in the UK, after a viral video of a pro-choice/abortion women criticising prolife campaigners went viral and has been seen nearly 5 million times. The abortion debate has been on the front of newspapers, on the TV, Radio and all over the internet, the first time to such an extent for quite some time. Borrowing the words of Francis Schaeffer, the roof has come off and people have been made aware of the point of tension. Simply that abortion is a violent, dehumanising act that kills a whole, living distinct human being and abortion imagery makes that fact impossible to hide from. This has made a lot of people very angry and the UK press are not happy about it!

The viral video has been extremely popular but I have written a response to it which you can read here, and there is also a link in the first paragraph to the viral video.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Thoughts on Brittany Maynard's Situation [Clinton Wilcox]

You've probably heard the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with degenerative brain cancer, who took her own life rather than lose control of her bodily functions in what she referred to as "dying with dignity." Now, like all contentious issues, there are terms used that are emotionally-charged and obfuscate the main issue. In the case of euthanasia, "death with dignity" is one such term, since it implies that those who choose to live out their lives and accept the consequences are not dignified in their death.

Maynard's situation was tragic, and no one truly knows what they will do when they find themselves in that situation. It is a lousy situation all around. What she did was not brave, to be sure, but neither am I comfortable calling it cowardly, either. Even though she did the wrong thing, she was trying to take a situation that was beyond her control and bring it under her control. I don't want to overlook the tragedy of the situation, as so many have done so far. It's easy to denigrate someone for their choices when you're not the one going through it. I have even seen some indicating that because she committed suicide, she will not be in Heaven. But this is bad theology; Jesus told us that there is only one unpardonable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12: 22-32). I do not know Maynard's spiritual condition. But the only thing that would keep her out is if she wasn't trusting in Christ as her savior and redeemer.

The stark reality is that Maynard did not "die with dignity." As Trent Horn points out, dying with dignity is about how you face death, not about how you die. Choosing an early death is not dying with dignity because death, itself, is undignified. It is our enemy, which is why Christ had to come and conquer it. With Christ, death is not final. There will come a time when all the dead will be resurrected, and this is the time that we, as Christians, can look to for hope. Maynard taking her own life prematurely was not dying on her own terms, because she was already dying. Her choice to commit suicide was merely preventing death from dealing the final blow.

The situation was made even more tragic by the fact that she was in constant pain. Now, there are painkillers one can take, and as Trent mentioned in his article, it is not impermissible to take painkilling medication that has an unintended side effect of shortening one's life. But to directly take one's own life to avoid what comes at the end of life is wrong. There have been others who have a similar condition to Maynard's who tried to urge her not to take her life, such as Kara Tippets.

I've seen several people wondering about how her situation differs from people on 9/11, who jumped from the Twin Towers to escape the burning flames that were engulfing the building. The disconnect is that the people jumping were trying to escape the flames, and probably weren't thinking clearly in the heat of the moment (pun definitely not intended). Maynard's death was a premeditated act that implicitly says she doesn't believe that living a full life of suffering and accepting the consequences is dignified.

It actually makes me think of a general on a battlefield, fighting a losing battle. Surely if a general were to engage in a losing battle knowing that he had no hope of winning, that would be wrong. It would be tantamount to murder of his soldiers, and suicide if he didn't make it out, himself. But what if they are engaged in battle with a ruthless enemy, with no hope of winning? The heroic thing to do is to fight to the very end, not to surrender and allow the ruthless enemy to slaughter your soldiers.

Allowing the decision to end the lives of people who are suffering opens a slippery slope. How much suffering is too much before we deem a life not worth living? We've already seen some of this in our culture which has allowed abortion and euthanasia, such as the fact that roughly 90% of unborn children diagnosed with Down's syndrome aborted, and children like Baby Doe who was born in 1984, but had Down's syndrome and needed a surgery to correct a condition in his throat so that he could eat. Since he had Down's syndrome, the Supreme Court allowed the parents of Baby Doe to murder their own child by starving him to death.

We already live in a culture that doesn't respect life and doesn't understand the wonder and the beauty of it, even those lives that are not lived up to our culture's standard of quality. Brittany Maynard's case is the latest in a tragic line of people who viewed their own lives, or the life of someone else, as not worth living.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: Persuasive Pro-Life by Trent Horn [Clinton Wilcox]

Special thanks to Trent Horn for the free copy to review.

Trent Horn used to work for Justice for All, and it really shows in this book. If you've ever been through a JFA seminar, this book is a terrific supplement to the seminar. It's basically the JFA seminar in print form.

Trent begins by explaining what's at stake in the issue, then turns to how to have more productive conversations on abortion. Instead of having conversations that devolve into shouting matches and name-calling, or even having civil conversations where both people talk past each other, Trent discusses skills to develop that will help you be more convincing in your conversations to be able to change hearts and minds on this issue.

After the conversation skill, Trent discusses the many different kinds of people you may encounter when you talk about this issue, and the best ways to respond to their concerns.

When I first heard that Trent was writing a book, I was told that the book would be similar to Scott Klusendorf's The Case for Life, only geared more toward Catholics. While Trent does quote many Catholic fathers and popes, this is not a book just for Catholics. Non-Catholics will get much out of the book, and the vast majority of information in this book can be accepted and used by non-Catholics. There are only two places in the book that I can recall that may not be specifically helpful to non-Catholics, but it is still very helpful to at least hear where Catholics are coming from on this issue, especially since they're the largest pro-life group of people in the world.

There was really only one misstep in the book that I can recall, but it's a minor one, as far as I'm concerned. In his discussion of abortions in the case of rape on page 207, Trent (in the mouth of a pro-life advocate) makes the statement that "rape is a tragic crime that men will never understand." But some men *are* raped. It's important to understand that while women are the vast majority of victims, there are still men who are raped, and may even be working for the pro-life field and can use that as a bit of common ground with the pro-choice advocate.

Trent's book is simply one of the better books you can own on the abortion issue. It will help you present a much more persuasive case for the pro-life position, not just because it presents good, compelling arguments, but also because it will help you be a much more persuasive arguer by treating the person you're talking to with respect, listening to their concerns, and finding common ground without compromising your pro-life convictions.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part IV [Clinton Wilcox]

This will be the last in this series, as the author, Brandon Christen, has indicated this is his last part. He seems to have forgotten his desire to respond to the argument from ageism, but I guess we'll have to be content with this. You can find the first part in this series here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Christen's article, that I will be responding to, can be found at this link.

Christen does consider this to be the strongest non-religious argument against abortion. The problem is, he doesn't seem to understand the argument. He seems to assume it means that you were a human at all points in your life. That's part of it, but the argument states that you are *you* at all points in your life. You were human at all points, but the same *you* now is the same *you* then when you were a toddler, and when you were in the womb. Here's a more thorough exposition of the argument from identity.

Christen begins by restating his fallacious argument that there is no evidence for a soul -- that there is a difference between humanity and personhood. That's true, but irrelevant. The argument from identity is not a personhood argument. Christen seems blinded by the "personhood" discussion so that he can't imagine any discussion of abortion that doesn't break down to a discussion of personhood. Whether or not you talk about person, the argument is that you are identical to yourself through all points of your life.

Before continuing, I just want to counter Christen's false claim that there is no good evidence that minds can exist outside of a brain. This is just false. We may not have experience of minds existing outside of brains, but it doesn't follow from this that it is impossible. After all, if God exists, he exists disembodied but is able to think, create, etc. So if God exists, then it is false to say that a brain must be present for a mind to exist. There is also very strong evidence that the brain and mind are separate. The Law of Identity states that A=B. In other words, for anything true of A, that same thing must be true of B. Otherwise the two things would not be identical. But there are things that is true of my mind that is not true of my brain. My brain is physical, whereas my mind is not. Whenever I have thoughts "about" something, my brain does not change shape to become the thing I am thinking of. Additionally, as J.P. Moreland writes in his book Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, "Mental events are fellings of pain, episodes of thoughts, or sensory experiences. Physical events are happenings in the brain and central nervous system that can be described exhaustively using terms from chemistry and physics." Moreland goes on, "Physical events and their properties do not have the same features as do mental events and their properties. My thoughts, feelings of pain, or sensory experiences do not have any weight; they are not located anywhere in space (my thought of lunch cannot be closer to my right ear than to my left one); they are not composed of chemicals; they do not have electrical properties. On the other hand, the brain events associated with my thoughts, etc. -- indeed, with material things in general -- do have these features."

So there is very good evidence that the brain and the mind are separate. But moving on.

Christen goes on to assert a thought experiment, that if he was struck with a virus that erased all of his memories, everything that makes him "Brandon" would be gone. But this isn't clear at all. He's confusing the memories, experiences, etc., with the experiencer of those memories, experiences, etc. What is it, exactly, that was experiencing those events? Why is he so sure that "Brandon" would be gone, instead of "Brandon" surviving without his experiences intact? In fact, with one question I can refute his thought experiment: are we then morally permitted to kill Brandon once he finds himself in that state? If not, then doesn't it seem like the experiencer is still there, even if all of his memories are gone?

Christen seems to be asserting a form of dualism here -- that Brandon is not his body, just his collection of psychological experiences. But he has not made a case for this, besides some misguided assertions that there is no brain or "soul" (he assumes there is no evidence, rather than engaging the multitude of philosophical and theological books that give evidence for a soul or that the mind is independent of the brain). In fact, Edwin C. Hui, in his book At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics, argues that this dualism results in the view that the physical organism can exist independently of the psychological entity, and it's the psychological entity that should be given ontological significance (in other words, the psychological entity is the one with intrinsic value, the one whose existence is important, not the physical organism). But this contradicts normal human experience. The sensations that our body experiences need the body as a subject of experiences, to experience these sensations, and the psychological component is necessary to comprehend the sensations so they can be understood as meaningful. Since the boyd and psychological components are both necessary for our experiences, then both are necessary for the "I", the person who is the subject of experiences. Since the body is a necessary component to the person, one cannot hold that the body comes to be at one time while the person comes to be at another time.

So Christen's critique here, like his other critiques, is simply misguided. He seems to want to force "personhood" arguments into these other non-personhood arguments. But this simply won't do. In fact, the argument from numerical identity argues that the fetus is identical to me, despite not having psychological continuity with who the fetus will become later. Christen fails to really engage with the argument, itself, instead just engaging with whether or not we are psychologically connected to ourselves through out our entire lives. We are not, but this is irrelevant to the argument from identity.

So Christen's statement that there are no sufficient arguments isn't surprising -- he doesn't really understand the arguments. In order to find an argument compelling, you have to understand it. But in order to adequately refute an argument, you also have to understand it. These arguments remain unscathed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Irrationality of the Pro-Choice Mindset [Clinton Wilcox]

The Blaze has reported on a woman on Reddit who has posted an open letter to her unborn child, a young person which she is going to have aborted next Friday. You can read the letter here.

Let's be clear about something, first. I am sympathetic to her position. I know it can be difficult to raise an unborn child when one is not ready to be a mother. The people in her life should be rallying around her to help her through this difficult situation and help prepare her to be a good mother for this child. I just don't see that this is adequate grounds for anyone to kill their child, to say nothing of the fact that the choice of whether to become a mother is before the procreative act of sex, not after. Once the child is conceived, you are a mother and have obligations to care for your offspring, whether or not you feel ready for them.

The Blaze has called this letter "heartbreaking." But what's heartbreaking about this situation is that she's bought into the pro-choice mindset. Abortion is often touted as a "religious issue," but the religious underpinnings of the pro-choice mindset are often ignored. In this letter, she acknowledges that this is a child, yet she seems to believe in a form of reincarnation, that the child she kills now will come around again when she's ready to be a mother, and this time she'll keep the child. But this doesn't line up with reality. The child she kills is a unique life that will not come around again. Once she kills the child, the child is gone for good. Here's an article from Secular Pro-Life that talks more about the religious underpinnings of the pro-choice movement.

If this letter had been written by a parent wanting to kill her toddler, this would not be seen as "heartbreaking." This would be seen as appalling, and rightly so. Yet because this is an unborn child, and pro-choice people tend to have a subtle reincarnation mindset, it's not seen as appalling because she can just try again when she's ready and this same child will come around again. This does not correspond to reality, but I can see how it would help some people sleep better at night.

She also claims that she wants her child to be happy. I hear this a lot from pro-choice advocates, and it seems a good way to justify this act of abortion. But this claim seems a little hollow when you understand that the choice is between giving your child life, or killing your child in abortion. How does your fear that you won't be able to give your child a good life justify killing the child through a gruesome procedure like abortion (or at all)? You can't claim you love your child and subsequently claim that killing her is the best thing for her.

The unborn is a unique individual right from conception. As a unique individual, once their life is snuffed out there is no coming back. We need to address the irrationality of the pro-choice mindset if we're going to see abortion made illegal again.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pro-Life Themes in Doctor Who [Clinton Wilcox]

I am very much a Whovian. I'm actually a fan of many science fiction shows, especially Star Trek. And as a side note, I don't consider Doctor Who to be science fiction. I consider it science fantasy. I have seen many articles written about the latest Doctor Who episode, "Kill the Moon," which seems to have a pro-life theme running through the episode. I am skeptical about this theme, as I'll outline below. However, as is the abortion issue, this episode has clearly been polarizing. I've seen reviews by people who hated it with the burning passion of a thousand suns. I've seen reviews by people who loved it. And even pro-choice reviewers have found a pro-life theme in this episode, such as this reviewer. This will contain obvious spoilers, so continue reading at your own peril.

Let's be clear: I love when science fiction shows present moral dilemmas. That makes for compelling television. I love it when they have philosophical discussions. That's why this episode (and others) have appealed to me. Doctor Who doesn't always present moral dilemmas or philosophical problems, but when it does, it makes for a great hour of television.

But here's the problem: Doctor Who has been a show that has always been about animal rights. There are many scenes from prior episodes that show that animals should be treated just like humans. A more recent example was when the Tyrannosaurus Rex was threatening modern London, and The Doctor condemned the British for killing the Dinosaur because it was scared and didn't know what it was doing.

In "Kill the Moon," The Doctor takes Clara and a student at Clara's school, Courtney, to the Moon in the year 2049. They discover that the Moon had put on weight, affecting its gravity, and was threatening the life of everyone on Earth. They later discover that the Moon is actually an egg and a space creature is about to hatch from it. They encounter a team of astronauts, led by Lundvik, who have been sent by Earth to plant nukes and destroy the Moon before it destroys them. But now with the discovery of the creature, they face a moral dilemma: Destroy the Moon, and the creature with it, or let the animal survive and hope that it doesn't destroy the Earth. Lundvik votes to kill the creature, while Clara and Courtney want to save the creature's life. As this doesn't involve him, The Doctor leaves in the TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space) to allow the Terrans to make the decision for themselves.

It's not hard to draw a pro-life allegory from the tale, especially when you consider the ten points that Matt Bowman of Catholic Vote outlined in his article here. So I will at least concede that there is good reason to draw those parallels. But now I wish to talk about why I'm skeptical that it was a pro-life episode instead of merely an episode of protecting life in general.

First, I have no idea what the political views of Steven Moffat are. Gene Roddenberry would allow writers on Star Trek to explore themes that he didn't agree with. I don't know if Moffat has the same philosophy for his writers, or if Moffat considers himself to be pro-life. Until I do, I'm hesitant to call this a pro-life episode.

Second, this may not be a sentient creature that we are dealing with here. If this is not a sentient creature, then I think Lundvik's idea of killing the creature to save the earth would be morally permissible. Only if this was a child of a sentient species would this actually present a moral dilemma at all. As we know, there have been many instances in Doctor Who in which we are treated to the idea that "animals are people, too." So I'm not so sure this was actually about the wrongness of killing an unborn human child, specifically (or perhaps it was about abortion, but they would condemn all abortions, even of animals). But we also shouldn't look past the fact that The Doctor allowed them the choice, so even if we understand that saving the child's life was the right thing to do, it doesn't necessarily follow from that that abortion should be made illegal.

So at worst, this wasn't about abortion at all. At best, it was but it went about it in a very confused way that didn't really address the moral underpinnings of the issue. It would have been better if they simply would have encountered a pregnant woman and had this discussion. The objection might be raised, "but that wouldn't be science fiction-y." True. But let's consider an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that did this better.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode called "The Child," in which Deanna Troi was impregnated by an alien against her will. She wasn't raped, the child growing in her womb was the alien. The alien belonged to a non-corporeal species (that is, the species is an immaterial species) and wanted to understand life as a humanoid. So the way he went about it was to start life right from the beginning, as an embryo, and live out an accelerated life in just a few days that culminated in dying of natural causes. During a briefing after discovering Counselor Troi's pregnancy, Commander Riker suggested the child be aborted (even referring to the child as "it"), but Troi was insistent that the child was hers, and she was going to keep him.

This is a much better episode that discusses the abortion issue and doesn't leave any ambiguity about it. I would love to know that Moffat is pro-life (and the writer of the episode, Peter Harness). After researching a lot of reviews of this episode, I can say that there is a good chance this was meant to respond to the abortion debate. But considering how they went about it, I don't think the episode delivered in the way they may have intended it to.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part III [Clinton Wilcox]

This is the third part in this five part series. For part one, go here. For part two, click here.

In blogger Brandon Christen's third part of his series, he responds to an argument from rights. The argument, as he outlines is, is that all human beings have right (such as the right to life), the unborn are human beings, therefore the unborn have rights (such as the right to life).

Christen begins by reiterating his position on personhood, but as I have argued previously (see part one), his position on personhood can be rejected because he is begging the question by dismissing the soul and he has not properly argued for why personhood is grounded in brain function. And in part two, I explained that appealing to the kind of things that are not persons (e.g. grass and rocks) is a false analogy because the unborn from fertilization and the kind of things that are persons. Grass and rocks will never be sentient, yet unborn human beings will be once they develop enough.

So his discussion about the kinds of things we grant rights to is also irrelevant. He is confusing two types of value: intrinsic (or inherent) value, and instrumental value. We only value things like grass and trees instrumentally: they are valuable only insofar as we value them for their beauty, shade, production of oxygen, etc. Conversely, humans are intrinsically valuable: they are valuable in themselves and don't derive their value from anything else.

So his entire discussion of rights is off-base, because he is comparing granting rights to rocks (which are not the kinds of things that engage in personal acts) with the unborn (which are the kinds of things that engage in personal acts). In fact, his discussion at the end regarding infanticide undermines his entire article, but I'll get there at the end.

Rights, properly understood, lay out the kinds of things that we should be legally allowed to do, and also the obligations that we also must abide by. There are two different kinds of rights: legal rights, which are rights bestowed on us by the government and come about as we mature. Examples of these are the right to drive and the right to vote (this will be important later in the article). There are also natural rights, which are rights that we have by virtue of being human beings (and don't come about by maturity). Examples of these are the right to life, the right to self-defense, the right to liberty, etc. As an aside, discussions of rights actually lead to an amusing dilemma for pro-choice people. So while a tourist does not have the right to vote in a country they are not a citizen of, they do have the right not to be killed in that country because of their natural right to life.

So his discussion about granting rocks rights is useless. It is true that rocks do not desire the right to assemble; the problem is that rocks never desire the right to assemble, so there is no point in granting it to them. I had no desire to go to church last night while I was asleep. It does not follow from that that I didn't have the right to go to church last night while I was asleep. The unborn are more like people in reversible comas than they are rocks (or even brain dead people) because they do not now but will have such a desire. Besides, infants have no desire for rights yet we grant them rights. If desires were a necessary condition for having rights, infants would have no rights.

His discussion of granting mice rights is equally as useless, for the same reasons I outlined in the previous paragraph. But now it seems like Christen's position is becoming more ad hoc. After all, mice clearly have desires; they have a desire for cheese, not to die, etc. It's true that these are merely instinctual desires, but why does that matter? Here's where Christen really runs into trouble. He is clearly defining infants out of the moral community by arguing that mice, since they do not have the abstract fear of death or future suffering that we do. Peter Singer would agree with his position, except that Singer is consistent and argues that infants are not part of the moral community.

I agree with Christen's discussion of what makes us unique over the animals. What I don't agree with is Christen pushing the unborn out of the moral community just because they can't do these things yet, and Christen has yet to give us any good reason for disqualifying the unborn.

In fact, Christen actually says that killing an embryo in its early weeks is equivalent to smashing a rock in terms of how much suffering it produces: none. But this is irrelevant to the question of moral worth. There are people like Gabby Gingras, who are born with a congenital inability to feel pain. So if you're talking about suffering from a physical standpoint, you would have to say it would be moral to kill Gabby Gingras since she would not suffer. If you mean from a psychological standpoint, you are equally in trouble because now you can justify killing someone in their sleep. They will not suffer psychologically if you kill them. Christen has no leg to stand on here.

At the end of this article, Christen involves a postscript that is even more ad hoc than we've already seen. I'll bring it down point by point:

"Note: Just so we are clear, I am not saying that nothing that cannot consciously enjoy rights should not have them."

He undermines his entire article/argument with this one line alone. How can you possibly defend infants having rights, despite not being able to consciously enjoy them, and not defend the unborn as having those same rights?

"I understand that toddlers cannot enjoy, in a sort of deeply, reflective way, the right to life. However, toddlers can experience pain and fear so it is still reasonable to extend the right to life to them."

Toddlers do not experience pain and fear in the same way that we do. At the toddler stage, you experience pain and fear in the same way that the mouse, in Christen's example above, does. So Christen should argue that it is wrong to torture toddlers but not to kill them, as per the same reasoning regarding his mouse.

"However, we still understand that toddlers do not have the right to vote and we do not mind since they do not yet have the ability to formulate cogent opinions on politics or even really care to vote at all."

And here's where my discussion on different types of rights come in to play. Of course toddlers cannot vote; but sixteen year olds can certainly care to vote and form cogent opinions, yet they must still wait until they're 18. So again, desiring rights is not a necessary condition for having them. The right to vote is a legal right, not a natural right, and is granted once sufficient maturity has been gained (and this is usually arbitrary, as some sixteen-year-olds may be perfectly mature enough to vote and some twenty-five-year-olds may not be). But the right to life is a natural right, which is granted to any human being, regardless of maturity, and was even granted to the unborn prior to 1973.

"This same principle would have us extend rights to other entities that, despite being unable to fully comprehend them, could nevertheless reasonably be said to benefit from them in a meaningful way."

Except for the unborn, he means. The unborn would reasonably benefit from having their right to life protected because they would be able to grow, mature, and flourish the same way that all human beings are meant to.

"This clarification does nothing to get anti-abortionists any closer to having reasonable grounds to extend the right to life to embryos, though, since an embryo lacks even the self-awareness necessary to reasonably consider caring if it lives or dies and thus does not have a meaningful benefit conferred to it if we go out of our way to keep it in existence."

This is just an ad hoc statement from Christen, meant to try and convince us to accept his reasoning despite the fact that it completely undermines his case. I've already explained how his reasoning fails, and there is no reason to re-hash it here.

So this is strike two, with two more articles to go. Christen has not given us any reason to reject these two pro-life arguments.

News on the Matter